The ‘Good Old Days’ of the Trump Presidency

you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.

.. I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.

.. Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign).

Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter.

Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband.

I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.

..  Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit

  • That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to
  • fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa.
  • .. when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

.. Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.

My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:

“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.

Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.

.. One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him.

With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have

  • moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,
  • opened ANWR to drilling, or
  • pulled out of the Paris climate accords and
  • TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).

Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress

  • Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God.
  • Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby.

I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him.

He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments

.. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped

.. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more.

.. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats.

.. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail.

What happens when

  • Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when
  • they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if
  • Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that
  • his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens
  • if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?

How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up

Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint?

Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?

..  in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.

.. “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.


Search for Hicks replacement turns into West Wing food fight

The top candidates emerging from inside the White House, multiple officials said, are director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration who has become a Kelly ally in his battle against Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and Tony Sayegh, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department.

.. There is also a broad internal base of support for press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take on the job, adding overall messaging strategy
.. The communications shop has long been one of the rockiest departments in the West Wing, with the top job there viewed now as a thankless task of overseeing messaging for a message-resistant, Twitter-happy president.
.. Trump likes to revive names from his original, campaign inner circle
.. Jason Miller, a veteran of the 2016 campaign, has been floated internally as a potential candidate for the job. Miller was first tapped for the communications director job during the transition in 2016, but was unable to take the job for personal reasons. He has managed to remain a favorite of the president, though, for his Trump-defending commentary on CNN.
.. the role Hicks played is not replaceable — she was one of Trump’s closest confidantes, serving as a resource for colleagues who relied on her help reading the president’s moods.

No New Special Counsel

Why not, then, appoint another special counsel to squeeze the squeezers? Why not turn the tables?

.. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a foundational error in appointing Robert Mueller to be special counsel to investigate . . . well . . . um . . . come to think of it, that was the error: The investigation has no parameters, and thus no limitations.

Investigations conducted by prosecutors are supposed to be rooted in known crimes — or, at the very least, articulable suspicion that known crimes have occurred.

those crimes must form the basis for two salient findings:

(1) that the Justice Department has a conflict of interest so severe that it cannot conduct the investigation in the normal manner, and

(2) that it is necessary to appoint, from outside the Justice Department, a quasi-independent prosecutor.

..  This special prosecutor is to be given a grant of investigative jurisdiction limited to the crimes that the Justice Department is too conflicted to investigate — and no other crimes, unless the special counsel explicitly requests, and the Justice Department grants, an expansion of jurisdiction.

.. Because counterintelligence is not lawyer work, and because the objective of counterintelligence is to gather information about a foreign power, not to build a criminal case against a suspect, prosecutors are not ordinarily assigned to counterintelligence investigations.

.. In the Mueller appointment, then, counterintelligence is camouflage for something that should never happen: a special counsel unleashed to hunt for crimes to prosecute despite the absence of known crimes warranting appointment of a special prosecutor.

.. is looking into whether Jared Kushner’s financial woes influenced Trump-administration policy towards Qatar.

.. Where I part company with them is not over whether we need an investigation; it is over whether that investigation should be done by a special counsel.

.. The patent flaw in the Goodlatte-Gowdy proposal is the same one that plagued Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller: There is no triggering crime.

.. Investigative Excesses Are Usually Not Crimes
It is very bad for investigators to exhibit bias, to allow bias to taint their exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion, to depart from Justice Department guidelines, and to provide unverified information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court). But none of these things is a crime – at least, not obviously so.

.. There is no criminal statute addressing bias on the part of agents and prosecutors. We all have biases. It would not be possible to have bias-free investigators.

.. But if deviations from guidelines were to become a basis for legal action, including criminal prosecution, one of two things would happen: The guidelines would be repealed, or they would be rewritten in a broadly permissive manner, endorsing investigative behavior that might be justifiable in exigent circumstances but would be grossly inappropriate the rest of the time.

..  If police and prosecutors came to believe enforcement errors would lead to prosecutions or civil lawsuits against them, they would refrain from taking any but the most uncontroversial enforcement actions. In another context, Heather Mac Donald has written compellingly about this phenomenon as “the Ferguson effect.” To discourage policing is to erode the rule of law, imperiling societal peace and prosperity.

.. If there was a good-faith basis for the FBI and Justice Department to investigate possible Trump–Russia ties of a corrupt nature, it would be very difficult to prove that investigators broke the law in conducting their investigation

.. Candidate Trump made alarmingly ingratiating statements about Vladimir Putin

.. Trump brought Manafort and Gates into his campaign at a very high level. They had notorious ties to Kremlin-backed Ukrainians. Those ties are not speculation; they are established fact. Moreover, Trump publicly identified Carter Page, an obscure Kremlin apologist, as one of his campaign’s handful of foreign-policy advisers. Simultaneously, the FBI was alerted that the Russians might be in possession of thousands of hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, and might have made a point of communicating this claim to George Papadopoulos, another of the few identified Trump foreign-policy advisers.

.. Then the bureau was approached by Christopher Steele. Far from being unknown to the FBI, this former British spy was a proven asset, having provided information that helped the bureau crack the FIFA soccer case

.. Steele alleged that Trump was involved in a corrupt conspiracy with Russia, in which Manafort, the point man, was using Page as an intermediary. Because of his prior work with the bureau, Steele would not have been ignored by the FBI, regardless of the Clinton campaign’s sponsorship of his work

.. given the preexisting reasons for concern: Trump’s pro-Putin rhetoric; the backgrounds of Manafort, Gates, and Page; and the report about possible Russian involvement in hacked Democratic emails.

.. It would not be credible to claim that the Trump-Russia investigation was fabricated out of whole cloth. Even stipulating that the top FBI/DOJ hierarchy was biased against Trump, and thus too quick to credit sensational allegations of Trump wrongdoing, there were good-faith reasons for concern about ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian regime. These reasons do not prove that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails; that Carter Page was a Russian agent; that Manafort and Gates were choreographing a Trump–Russia conspiracy; or that Trump’s Russia rhetoric was anything more than a political novice’s effort to do what American administrations have been doing for decades — seek better relations with Moscow.

.. Goodlatte and Gowdy are also right to suggest (as I believe they have) that the contemplated investigation should scrutinize the handling of the Clinton-emails probe

.. The special counsel is a pernicious institution that operates outside the procedures and discipline of a normal U.S. attorney’s office — where the merits of every case must be weighed against those of every other in the competition for limited investigative and prosecutorial resources.

.. Attorney General Sessions should assign a U.S. attorney from outside Washington to conduct a probe of how the Clinton-emails and Trump-Russia investigations were handled by the Justice Department and FBI. A good model would be John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut just confirmed by the Senate.

.. the Bush administration was cut no slack by Fitzgerald, then a career prosecutor who is remembered for conducting a hyper-aggressive probe.

.. Mueller is effectively independent only because Rosenstein has chosen to be passive

.. Mueller reports to Rosenstein, who could assert more active supervision.

.. There is no reason that Attorney General Sessions cannot structure a probe that can be credibly conducted by the Justice Department’s standard investigative arrangement

Trumpism Is a Psychology, Not an Ideology

Trump presents an insurmountable challenge to an intellectual approach to politics because his decisions aren’t based on any coherent body of ideas.

.. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon devoted considerable resources to promoting Trumpist candidates who supposedly shared President Trump’s worldview and parroted his rhetoric, including anti-globalism, economic nationalism, and crude insults of “establishment” politicians. Those schemes largely came to naught.

.. The intellectual effort to craft or divine a coherent Trumpist ideology didn’t fare much better. Just over a year ago, Julius Krein launched a new journal called American Affairs to “give the Trump movement some intellectual heft,”

.. On the left, there’s an enormous investment in the idea that Trump isn’t a break with conservatism but the apotheosis of it. This is a defensible, or at least understandable, claim if you believe conservatism has always been an intellectually vacuous bundle of racial and cultural resentments.

.. by his own admission, he doesn’t consult any serious and coherent body of ideas for his decisions. He trusts his instincts.

.. Trump has said countless times that he thinks his gut is a better guide than the brains of his advisers. He routinely argues that the presidents and policymakers who came before him were all fools and weaklings. That’s narcissism, not ideology, talking.

.. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts.

He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way.

He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts. He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way. He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means.

.. The president’s attack on his attorney general’s conduct as “disgraceful” makes no political, legal, or ideological sense, but it is utterly predictable as an expression of Trump’s view that loyalty to Trump should trump everything else.

.. Likewise, his blather about skipping due process to “take the guns” was politically bizarre

.. And, of course, his decision to promote and protect his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is purely psychological. Giving Kushner the responsibility to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for all time seems like the premise of a sitcom

.. many of Trump’s biggest fans stick by him, mirroring Trump’s mode of thinking and discovering ever more extravagant ways to explain or rationalize the president’s behavior. (Krein’s abandonment of Trump was an exception to the rule.)

When Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University tweeted his support, floating the idea that Sessions was an anti-Trump deep cover operative who endorsed Trump to undermine his presidency from within.

.. If this infection becomes a pandemic — a cult of personality — one could fairly call Trumpism a movement. But psychology would still be the best way to understand it.